National

Disability pensioners unlikely to face medicals

Very few of Australia's 814,000 disability pensioners will be asked to prove they are still sick or injured enough to be entitled to the welfare payment, the National Audit Office has found.

The average disability pensioner will spend 13 years on the payment and most will only move off the payment when they start getting an age pension or when they die, according to a new audit of the administration of the Disability Support Pension.

The Audit Office found a crackdown on under 35-year-olds claiming the disability pension, announced in the Abbott government's controversial 2014 budget, was likely to result in even fewer medical checks on the bulk of recipients.

But the Department of Human Services says it uses other, more effective, ways to ensure that everyone getting paid a DSP is entitled to the money.

Governments from both sides of Australian politics have been trying since 2007 to slow the growth of the Disability Support Pension but the cost of the payment reached nearly $17 billion this financial year and is projected to grow to $18.4 billion.

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But the auditors noted a "financial incentive" to getting onto the DSP, which pays $250 more per fortnight than the Newstart unemployment payment.

In its latest audit report the Australian National Audit Office looked at the administration of the payment and found room for improvement in DHS's compliance efforts.

The auditors found that a DSP recipient stood a good chance of having their payments reviewed by Centrelink, with nearly 80,000 reviews carried out in the 2013-2014 financial year, but the odds were long that they would be seen by a doctor, with only 3841 of the reviews that year including a medical test.

In 2014-2015, only 721 medical reviews were conducted as part of compliance reviews.

"Although the overall level of compliance review activity undertaken by Human Services each year is significant, the likelihood of a DSP recipient being medically reviewed is low," the auditors concluded.

"This is despite the fact that medical grounds are the most likely reason for an individual having their claim for DSP rejected.

"As a result, it is possible that some recipients may continue receiving DSP even though their medical conditions no longer justify continued receipt of the payment."

The crackdown on under-35s getting the DSP might have backfired, the auditors noted, making it less likely that the vast majority of recipients who are outside this group would ever face a medical review.

"In 2014–15 a budget measure was introduced to fund 28,000 reviews of DSP recipients under 35 years of age," the audit report says.

"As a result, recipients who fall outside the budget measure criteria are unlikely to be reviewed and may continue receiving DSP even though their medical conditions no longer justify it."

But Human Services, in its response to the auditors, defended its compliance performance arguing that it concentrated its efforts in areas it regarded as more effective; people earning undeclared money while on the pension or not being entirely honest in their dealing with Centrelink.

"Human Services advised that, although it reduced the number of medical reviews, it continued to undertake compliance reviews targeting other risks such as earned income, because it considered that these were more effective," the audit noted.

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